Sunday, May 28, 2017

Presidential Challenges: JFK 100

By Bill Doughty

This Memorial Day coincides with the 100th birthday of a U.S. Navy World War II hero and the 35th president of the United States: John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

JFK challenged Americans to serve their nation and to work toward greater equality and justice. He saw hope in the future: "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans."

Now his daughter, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, is ensuring her father's memory and legacy is remembered and honored. She, herself, is passing the torch to another generation.

Beginning this Memorial Day weekend, Boston's John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is presenting JFK 100: Milestones and Mementos – an opportunity to connect with his life, achievements and ideals.

From the JFK Library: "Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and her children, Rose, Tatiana, and Jack, reflect on how 100 years after his birth, their father and grandfather continues to inspire others to work, fight, and believe in a better world."

Caroline Kennedy is author or editor of numerous books on history, constitutional law, poetry and patriotism.

Here are some poems for the next generation from her beautiful compilation, "Poems to Learn by Heart" (Disney Hyperion, 2013), with paintings by Jon J Muth. This sampling is selected for Memorial Day, as we remember service members who gave their lives for our freedom and in service to their nation.

Shiloh: A Requiem, April 1862
(Herman Melville)

Skimming lightly, wheeling still, 
      The swallows fly low 
Over the field in clouded days, 
      The forest-field of Shiloh— 
Over the field where April rain 
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain 
Through the pause of night 
That followed the Sunday fight 
      Around the church of Shiloh— 
The church so lone, the log-built one, 
That echoed to many a parting groan 
            And natural prayer 
      Of dying foemen mingled there— 
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve— 
      Fame or country least their care: 
(What like a bullet can undeceive!) 
      But now they lie low, 
While over them the swallows skim, 
      And all is hushed at Shiloh.

What Are Heavy?
(Christina Rossetti)

What are heavy? sea-sand and sorrow:
What are brief? today and tomorrow:
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth:
What are deep ? the ocean and truth.

(Robert Frost)

The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to ocean -
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition. 

(Janet S. Wong)

I pledge acceptance
of the views,
so different,
that make us America

To listen, to look,
to think, and to learn

One people
sharing the earth responsible
for liberty
and justice
for all.

We remember JFK, his strong connection with the Navy, and his pursuit of "liberty and justice for all" on his 100th birthday with these photos:

President John F. Kennedy and others watch television coverage of the lift-off of astronaut Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr. aboard "Freedom 7," on the first US manned sub-orbital flight. L-R: Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy; Special Assistant to the President for National Security McGeorge Bundy; Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson; Special Assistant to the President Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; Chief of Staff of the United States Navy Admiral Arleigh Burke; President Kennedy; First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Office of the President’s Secretary, White House, Washington, D.C. (JFK Library)
President John F. Kennedy presents Distinguished Service Medal to Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of Staff of the United States Navy. Looking on (L – R): Naval Aide to the President Commander Tazewell Shepard, Jr. (far left); Congressman Daniel J. Flood (Pennsylvania, partially hidden); Roberta Burke, wife of Admiral Burke; General Lyman Lemnitzer, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff (behind and between President Kennedy and Admiral Burke); others unidentified. Rose Garden, White House, Washington, D.C. (JFK Library)
President John F. Kennedy hands a diploma to an unidentified cadet at the United States Naval Academy commencement ceremony, Annapolis, Maryland. Chief of Staff of the United States Navy Admiral Arleigh A. Burke is seated on the stage, fifth from the left. (JFK Library)
President John F. Kennedy presents a posthumous medal for Lieutenant Commander Victor A. Prather, Jr., (United States Navy) to his widow, Virginia Merritt Prather. Prather’s children, Victor Alonzo III and Marla Lee, stand in front. Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C.
President John F. Kennedy meets with Harold Russell, National Commander of American Veterans (AMVETS), in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. They hold a pamphlet entitled “1102 American Heroes: Are They Forgotten?” produced by the AMVETS to encourage legislators to fund the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii. (JFK Library)
President John F. Kennedy (center) greets a referee and team captains for the coin toss prior to the Army-Navy Football Game (United States Military Academy Cadets versus United States Naval Academy Midshipmen). John Hewitt of Navy stands at left; Mike Casp of Army stands at right. Associate Press Secretary, Andrew T. Hatcher, stands at far right (face partially hidden). Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (White House photograph)
President John F. Kennedy's visits the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, April 1962 and looks through the periscope aboard USS Thomas Edison (SSBN-610).
(Photo from National Archives.)
President John F. Kennedy (center, wearing sunglasses) speaks by radiotelephone to the crew of the submarine USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619) from the deck of the United States Naval ship USS Observation Island (EAG-154), at sea off the coast of Florida. Left to right: three unidentified military personnel; Deputy Commander of the Submarine Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Rear Admiral Vernon L. Lowrance; Commanding Officer of the USS Observation Island, Captain Roderick O. Middleton (in back, partially hidden); President Kennedy (wearing a windbreaker bearing the insignias of USS Observation Island and USS Andrew Jackson presented as a gift from the crews of both ships); Director of Special Projects (USN), Rear Admiral I. J. Galantin; and two unidentified sailors. The President sailed aboard the ship to view a Polaris A-2 missile launch demonstration from the submarine. (JFK Library)
President John F. Kennedy (center) speaks with U.S. Navy SEAL team members on the pier at Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia, before boarding the USS Northampton (CC-1) for an overnight cruise to view U.S. Atlantic Fleet exercises. (JFK Library)
President John F. Kennedy (center) shakes hands with an unidentified United States Navy pilot on the hangar deck of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, at sea off the coast of North Carolina. Admiral Robert L. Dennison, Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Command (CINCLANT), Commander in Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT), stands at far left; Naval Aide to the President Captain Tazewell Shepard, Jr. (in profile, partially hidden), stands right of Admiral Dennison. President Kennedy delivered remarks from the hangar deck after observing U.S. Atlantic Fleet exercises. (White House photograph)
President John F. Kennedy (center) greets Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, at a military reception in their honor. Also pictured: Military Aide to the President, General Chester V. Clifton; Naval Aide to the President, Captain Tazewell Shepard; Associate Press Secretary, Andrew T. Hatcher; Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy; First Lady’s Social Secretary, Letitia Baldrige; Deputy Secretary of Defense, Roswell L. Gilpatric; Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara; and Secretary of the Navy, Fred Korth. Rose Garden, White House, Washington, D.C. (JFK Library)
President John F. Kennedy visits with U.S. Navy officers. Left to right: Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) officer, Commander Irene Wolensky; Director of WAVES, Captain Winifred Quick Collins; and President Kennedy. Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. (JFK Library)
President John F. Kennedy (center, wearing sunglasses) exits a United States Marine Corps helicopter upon his arrival aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CVA-34), during a visit to the U.S. Pacific Fleet at sea off the coast of San Diego, California. Secretary of the Navy Fred Korth follows behind President Kennedy; U.S. Navy sailors render honors. (White House photograph)
President John F. Kennedy (left, at podium) delivers remarks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), after viewing U.S. Pacific Fleet demonstrations at sea off the coast of San Diego, California. Also pictured (standing right of podium): Naval Aide to the President, Captain Tazewell Shepard; Commander of Carrier Division One, Rear Admiral Paul Masterton; and White House Secret Service agent, Ron Pontius. (White House photograph)
President John F. Kennedy visits the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. Also pictured: Governor John A. Burns of Hawaii; Senator Daniel Inouye (Hawaii); Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command (CINCPAC), Admiral Harry D. Felt; Deputy C, Admiral U. S. Grant Sharp, Jr.; Naval Aide to the President, Captain Tazewell Shepard; White House Secret Service agents, Tony Sherman and Ron Pontius. (JFK Library)
President John F. Kennedy (right)meets with Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Maxwell D. Taylor (far left).  McNamara and  Taylor reported to President Kennedy on their recent survey trip to South Vietnam. Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C.
President John F. Kennedy and others listen to a bugle player during Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Administrator of the Veterans Administration (VA), General John S. Gleason (face obscured), stands right of bugler. (JFK Library)
Military officials arrive at the White House prior to the funeral procession of President John F. Kennedy. Those pictured include: Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Curtis E. LeMay; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Maxwell D. Taylor; Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General Earle G. Wheeler; Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, General David M. Shoup; Naval Aide to President Kennedy, Captain Tazewell Shepard; Air Force Aide to President Kennedy, Brigadier General Godfrey T. McHugh; Military Aide to President Kennedy, General Chester V. Clifton. A member of the United States Navy color guard holds a flag at left. North Lawn driveway, White House, Washington, D.C. (JFK Library)
USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) Underway during carrier airwing qualifications in the Northern Puerto Rican Operations Area, December 10, 1996. (Photo by PH2c Scott A. Moak, USN. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC.)
Over the past eight years Navy Reads has published posts on "Profiles in Courage" and "PT-109," showing how President Kennedy overcame challenges and kept his focus on freedom, equality and justice for future generations.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

'50 for 50' Vietnam Reading List

By Bill Doughty

Seventy-five years ago we were in the middle of a war that changed the world for good, bringing democracy and freedom to most of the Pacific and Europe. For the United States the Second World War lasted just over 3 1/2 years. Today, thinking people know WWII was necessary (just as America's Civil War was regrettable but necessary to end slavery).

Then, 25 years later and 50 years ago, the United States fought in a war that, at the time, we weren't supposed to call "war." The "Vietnam Conflict" lasted for more than a decade. Now that half a century has passed since the height of the conflict, is it possible to evaluate the war and confront the reality of its aftermath? In "The Vietnam Reader" (Routledge, 1991) editor Walter Capps recounts:
"More than 58,000 Americans died as a result of the military hostilities. Hundreds of thousands more were wounded. Approximately twenty percent of those who serve have experienced deep and persistent emotional distress and psychological trauma. More than twice the number of those who lost lives there have taken their own lives since returning home. Huge percentages of America's homeless are veterans of the war. And when the Vietnamese people are included in these demographics, the statistics are even more alarming. Approximately 2 million Indochinese lost their lives from 1961 to 1975, and millions more were victims from the carnage that followed, principally, in Cambodia. The more we learn of the war, the heavier the burden becomes."
Was the Vietnam War necessary? How did it start? Why didn't it end sooner? What were the effects on the world, nation and the young Americans who served? The following list of 50 books for 50 years – remembering the Vietnam War – is not meant to be all-inclusive or in any perfect order, but many of these titles are listed in the top books to read on the subject.

If readers have recommended additions to this list, please feel free to send suggestions via "comments." There are reportedly already more than 30,000 books published, and new books will continue to be published about the Vietnam War. That's especially true in the next several years as we continue to commemorate the sacrifice, remember the tragedy, and understand how and why it all happened 50 years ago.

Broad Sweep

"A Bright and Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam" by Neil Sheehan. Random House, 1988. Opens with a funeral for one of the architects of the war, John Vann, and the book follows his involvement in perpetuating the war until his death in a helicopter crash. "Good intentions gone awry."

"In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam" by Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMarr. Times Books, Random House, 1995. "Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why."

"Vietnam: A History" by Stanley Karnow. The Viking Press, 1983, 1991. "The names of the dead engraved on the granite record more than lives lost in battle: they represent a sacrifice to a failed crusade, however noble or illusory its motives."

"A Rumor of War" by Philip Caputo. Henry Holt and Company, 1977, 1996. "This book does not pretend to be history. It has nothing to do with politics, power, strategy, influence, national interests, or foreign policy; nor is an indictment of the great men who led us into Indochina and whose mistakes were paid for with the blood of some quite ordinary men."

"The Best and the Brightest" by David Halberstam. Ballantine Books, 1972. "They had turned to the bombing out of their own desperation, because what they were doing no longer worked and because bombing was the easiest thing.  It was the kind of power which America wielded most easily, the greatest technological superpower poised against this preposterously small and weak country."

"America's Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975" by George C. Herring. Temple University Press, 1979. "The tonnage of bombs dropped on Indochina during the Nixon era exceeded that of the Johnson years, wreaking untold devastation, causing permanent ecological damage to the countryside, and leaving millions of civilians homeless... The war polarized the American people as had no issue since slavery a century before."

"About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior" by Col. David H. Hackworth and Julie Sherman. Touchstone, Simon & Shuster, 1989. "The United States ... is a great country with a great heritage; it has set a good example in the past and it can do so in the future, if only it begins to choose its battles carefully and makes sure its causes are right."

"The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War" by E.W. Kenworthy, Fox Butterfield, Hedrick Smith and Neil Sheehan. New York Times, Quadrangle Books, 1971. "The Pentagon papers, despite shortcomings and gaps, form a great archive of government decision-making on Indochina over three decades. The papers tell what decisions were made, how and why they were made and who made them."

"The World Almanac of the Vietnam War" edited by John S. Bowman, introduction by Fox Butterfield. "It was the first war the United States lost, though because of superior U.S. firepower and mobility it won virtually every battle... For the soldiers who fought it, it was a war maddeningly without front lines, against an enemy who often wore civilian clothes, and had no clear objective other than 'body count.'"

New, Fresh Insights

"Vietnam: A New History" by Christopher Goscha. Basic Books, 2016. Sweeping in scope. "The United States was hardly the first 'great power' to send their warships into the waters off Vietnam's coastline. Indeed, if Vietnam is recognizable to so many today, it is largely because this small country is located in one of those coveted parts of the world where the 'treat powers' repeatedly collide."

"Enduring Vietnam: An American Generation and Its War" by James Wright. Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, 2017. "Absent tangible military goals, it was hard to produce tangible military results."

"Vietnam: A History of the War" by Russell Freedman. Holiday House, 2016. A young adult book that synthesizes in words and pictures a wide swath of history, with chapters including "Ho Chi Minh: The Making of a Revolutionary," "The French War in Vietnam: The Elephant and the Tiger," "Tumbling Dominoes," "From the Tonkin Gulf to Rolling Thunder," "The TET Offensive," "The Fall of Saigon," and "Reconciliation."

"Walking Point: From the Ashes of the Vietnam War," a memoir by Perry A. Ulander. North Atlantic Books, 2016. "I would like to dedicate this book to all the people who, having put their faith and trust in social, political, or religious institutions, discovered that their faith had been misplaced and their trust betrayed."

"Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War" by Viet Than Nguyen. Harvard University Press, 2016. "Perhaps some things will never be remembered, and yet also never forgotten. Perhaps some things will remain unspoken and yet always heard... This is the paradox of the past, of trauma, of loss, of war, a true war story where there is no ending but the unknown, no conversation except that which cannot be finished."

"By Honor Bound: Two Navy Seals, The Medal of Honor, and a Story of Extraordinary Courage" by Tom Norris and Mike Thornton with Dick Couch and a foreword by Bob Kerrey, Medal of Honor recipient. St. Martin's Press, 2016. "This is the incredible story of two Navy SEALs who went back. One for a buddy, the other for a brother warrior he had never met. The actions of both represent the pinnacle of courage and selfless service."

More History

"Hunters and Shooters: An Oral History of the U.S. Navy SEALs in Vietnam" edited by Bill Fawcett. William and Company, 1995. "Though numbering less than 150 men in-country at any one time, the SEALs had an effect on the enemy far out of proportion to their numbers. Using the most conservative numbers, the SEALs accounted for 50 enemy dead for each SEAL lost."

"We Were Soldiers Once... and Young: Ia Drang – the Battle that Changed the War in Vietnam" by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway. Random House, 1992. "So this is the story about ... the first American combat troops, who boarded World War II-era troopships, sailed to that little-known place, and fought the first major battle of a conflict that would drag on for ten long years and come as near to destroying America as it did to destroying Vietnam."

"Brown Water, Black Berets" by Thomas J. Cutler. Naval Institute Press, 1988. "In proportion to the other services, the in-country participation of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard was very small: a peak strength of 38,000 Navy men compared with more than half a million total American servicemen in Vietnam at the height of the war. But those 38,000 grow to 1,842,000 when stretched over the years of the war, and those Navy and Coast Guard men [and women] who served do not deserve to be forgotten."

"Vietnam: The Naval History" by Frank Uhlig Jr. Naval Institute Press, 1986. "Before we engage in any similar war we must be sure, among other things that we can use our sea power properly. If for any reason we find that we will be unable to do that, or even are in doubt about it, we owe it to ourselves to find a solution to our problem other than war."

"The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990" by Marilyn Young. HarperCollins, 1991. "Veterans felt spat upon, stigmatized, contaminated. In television dramas, veterans were not heroes welcomed back into the bosom of loving families, admiring neighborhoods, and the arms of girls who loved uniforms; they were psychotic killers, crazies with automatic weapons. It was as if the country assumed that anyone coming back from Vietnam would, even should, feel a murderous rage against the society that had sent him there. The actual veteran – tired, confused, jet-propelled from combat to domestic airport – disappeared."

"They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967" by David Maraniss. Simon & Schuster, 1999. "Soldiers in Southeast Asia, student protesters in the United States, President Johnson and his advisers at the White House – they lived in markedly different worlds that were nonetheless dominated by the same overriding issue, and they all, in their own ways, seemed to be marching toward ambushes in those bright autumn days of 1967."

"The Nightingale's Song" by Robert Timberg. Simon & Schuster, 1995. Profiles the "ascent" of five U.S. Naval Academy graduates: "madcap midshipman who rises to the U.S. Senate" John McCain, "Marine who becomes the kickass troubadour for a generation of Vietnam veterans" James Webb, "brave, resourceful but flawed Marine" Oliver North, "introverted foreign-policy intellectual": Marine Bud McFarlane and "model midshipman" John Poindexter. "Crucial to their ascent is Ronald Reagan, who called Vietnam 'a noble cause.'"

"Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam, 1945-1990" by James S. Olson and Randy Roberts. St. Martin's Press, 1991. "Even when American policymakers began to see Vietnam for the quagmire it was, disengagement was excruciatingly difficult... The war was a colossal blunder born of an odd mixture of paranoia and arrogance."

"Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam." HarperCollins,1997. (Please see recent Navy Reads review for excerpts.)

"The Ten Thousand Day War: Vietnam: 1945-1975" by Michael Maclear. St. Martin's Press, 1981. "The Vietnamese, South and North, had against all odds endured and fought the century's longest war, and before that a century of foreign rule – and history must judge them foremost in terms of human fortitude and courage..."

First Person

"Everything We had: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Thirty-Three American Soldiers Who Fought It" compiled by Al Santoli. Random House, 1981. "This is a book by thirty-three veterans of the Vietnam War. We have tried to put into honest words the raw experience of what happened to us... Until the broader public fully comprehends the nameless soldier, once an image on your television screen, the nation's resolution of the experience called Vietnam will be less than adequate."

"Dispatches" by Michael Herr. Everyman's Library, Alfred A. Knopf, 1968, 2009. "There were times when the whole war itself seemed tapped of its vitality: epic enervation, the machine running half-assed and depressed, fueled on the watery residue of last year's war-making energy. Entire divisions would function in a bad dream state, acting out a weird set of moves without any connection to their source. Once I talked for maybe five minutes with a sergeant who had just brought his squad in from a long patrol before I realized that the dopey-dummy film over his eyes and the fly abstraction of his words were coming from deep sleep."

"Beyond Survival: Building on the Hard Times – A POW's Inspiring Story" by Gerald Coffee. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1990. (For excerpt, please read the Navy Reads review.)

"Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War" by Wallace Terry. Random House, 1984. "For me the thought of being killed in the Black Panther Party by the police and the thought of being killed by Vietnamese was just a qualitative difference. I had left one war and came back and go into another one. Most of the Panthers then were veterans... We had already fought for the white man in Vietnam. It was clearly his war. If it wasn't, you wouldn't have seen as many Confederate flags as you saw. And the Confederate flags was an insult to any person that's of color on this planet."

"Legend" by Eric Blehm. Crown Publishers, 2015. The story of Green Beret Staff Sergeant Roy Benavidez's rescue of a special forces team behind enemy lines. "His body – a torn-up canvas of bullet holes, shrapnel wounds, bayonet lacerations, punctures, burns, and bruises – painted a bloody portrait of his valor that day."

"Steinbeck in Vietnam: Dispatches from the War" edited by Thomas E. Barden. "I had always thought of East Asia as old, old in the sense of being tired and worn out, and second of being unbearably overpopulated. Neither preconception is true. The people are young and fresh and inventive, the lands are huge ... Conquest is no longer possible or desirable but cooperation is not only necessary but inevitable."

"In Love & War: The story of a family's ordeal and sacrifice during the Vietnam Years" by Jim and Sybil Stockdale. Harper & Row, 1984. "Washington's second thoughts, the guilt, the remorse the tentativeness, the changes of heart, the backout. And a generation of young Americans would get left holding the bag."

"The Soldiers' Story: Vietnam in Their Own Words" by Ron Steinman. TV Books, 1999. "One marine says he and his buddies lived only for 'Semper Fi,' always faithful to the basic precept of one for all, all for one. Every man in the book echoes that thought. Soldiers helped each other because they knew they could get help in return."

"...And a Hard Rain Fell: A GI's true story of the war in Vietnam" by John Ketwig. Source Books, 2002. "I love to go to the Vietnam Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C., and I believe I can 'read the writing on the wall.' I find it difficult to assimilate the realities of Vietnam with the American 'truths we hold to be self-evident.'"


"American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity" by Christian G. Appy. Viking, 2015. "It was still unimaginable to most Americans that their own nation would wage aggressive war and justify it with unfounded claims, that it would support antidemocratic governments reviled by their own people, and that American troops would be sent to fight in countries where they were widely regarded not as liberators, but as imperialist invaders."

"Last Men Out: The True Story of America's Heroic Final Hours in Vietnam" by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. Free Press, Simon & Schuster, 2011. "The long Vietnam War was over. There was a sadness to the moment, a sense of loss. Yet at the time, each Saigon MSG (Marine Corps Security Guard) felt buoyed by the knowledge that he had helped to secure one small triumph in the war's final crucible. Their country may have lost something that it might never recover. But they had persevered with dignity and courage. It was all the Marine Corps could have asked of them. It was all that they could have asked of themselves."

"Chickenhawk Back in the World: Life After Vietnam" by Robert Mason. Viking Penguin, 1993. "Finally, I have come to realize that the most significant thing I lost in that war was peace. When Polynesian sailors sail their canoes for weeks at a time on boundless seas without charts or compasses, they believe that they are sitting still, on a vacant earth, and that by moving their paddles correctly, by setting their sails properly, an island, their destination will arrive on the horizon and come to them." Mason is author of the classic work of "fiction," "Chickenhawk," his personal narrative.

"The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam" by Tom Bissell. Pantheon Books, 2007. "War is a force of influence above all else – the most purely distilled form of partisanship ever devised. Yet war's energies and dark matter are too complicated to allow anyone the certain physics of right and wrong."

"Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History" by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. Verity Press, 1998. "Still, the popular perception of Vietnam veterans as victims tortured by memories – drug abusers, criminals, homeless bums, or psychotic losers – did not fit me or anybody I knew who had served in Vietnam."

"The Perfect War: Technowar in Vietnam" by James William Gibson. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986. "A new war will not redeem U.S. defeat in Vietnam. There is no such thing as 'new, improved' technowar that will produce more value for the investment... Instead, another major war against a popular insurgency only offers the prospect of more death and destruction. The insurgents will suffer the most, but American soldiers will die, too... To finally understand the American defeat in Vietnam is to understand how the United States both created and became entrapped by a mythology and a war-production system."

Northern Exposure

"Fire In the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam" by Frances FitzGerald. Atlantic Monthly Press; Little, Brown and Company, 1972. "For the Americans in Vietnam it would be difficult to make this leap of perspective, difficult to understand that while they saw themselves as building world order, many Vietnamese saw them merely as the producers of garbage from which they could build houses."

"The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph and the Vietnam War" by Denise Chong. Viking, 20000. "In the voiceless cry of the girl in the picture is the silence of guilt, of public and private flaws. War, any war, not just the Vietnam war, has dimensions of moral ambiguity."

"Ho Chi Minh: A Life" by William J. Duiker. Hyperion, 2000. "For Americans, the debate over Ho Chi Minh arouses passions over a war that is now past. For Vietnamese, it conjures up questions of more fundamental importance, since it defines one of the central issues in the Vietnamese revolution – the relationship between human freedom and economic equality in the emerging postwar Vietnam."

"PAVN: People's Army of Vietnam" by Douglas Pike. Presidio Press, 1986. "The Vietnam War represented something new on the world scene, a different concept of war, one involving a radically new grand strategy... That perhaps is the moral to be drawn: we must disenthrall ourselves about Vietnam. We must look anew and come to see clearly what happened to us there and what that means for our future."

"Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides" by Christian G. Appy. Viking, 2003. "What might happen to our conception of the Vietnam War if we simply began to hear the accounts of American veterans alongside the memories of the Vietnamese who fought with and against them? What if we witnessed those distant jungle firefights through the eyes of the people who regarded the battlefield as home and called this epic struggle 'The American War'?"


"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien. Broadway Books,1990; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. Unabridged audiobook read by Bryan Cranston; Audible, 2013. The weight of Vietnam. "They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier's greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing." O'Brien is also the author of the acclaimed novel "Going After Cacciato."

"Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War" by Karl Marlantes. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010. "The light died. Voices were silenced. Darkness and fear replaced light and reason. The whisper of a leaf scraping on bark would make heads turn involuntarily and hearts gallop. The surrounding blackness and the unseen wall of dripping growth left no place to run. In that black wet nothingness the perimeter became just a memory. Only imagination gave it form." Marlantes is also author of "What It Is Like to Go to War."
"Fields of Fire" by James Webb. Prentice-Hall, 1978. "Hodges sat against a wet, grassy paddy dike and lazily stirred a can of Beef and Potatoes with a dirty plastic spoon. Raindrops popped and sizzled as they pelted the tiny stove in front of him, which he had made by punching holes in another C-ration tin. His eyes were sunken, his face gaunt and bearded. He dragged mechanically on a muddy cigarette, mindless of the stream of water that was pouring off his helmet down the back of his neck. There was no way to avoid the rain. His body was crinkly from it and he didn't care anymore."

"Close Quarters" by Larry Heinemann. Penguin, 1977. "The war works on you until you become part of it, and then you start working on it instead of it working on you, and you get deep-down mean. Not just kidding mean; not movie-style John Wayne mean, you get mean for real."

"The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam" by Bao Ninh. Riverhead Books, 1991, 1993. "My life seems little different from that of a sampan pushed upstream towards the past. There is no new life,no new era, nor is it hope for a beautiful future that now drives me on, but rather the opposite. The hope is contained in the beautiful prewar past."
Bogged down: Marine PFC J.L. Collins keeps a battery pack dry as he wades through a muddy hole while on a search mission with "I" Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 12 miles south-southwest of DaNang Vietnam, ca 1968. (Photo by USMC, courtesy National Archives)

Missing in this list are the books about the French experience in Vietnam in the 1950s, which is connected to the war in the 1960s and early 70s. Historians and writers like Fredrick Logevall, author of "Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam," show a thread from WWI through WWII through the Korean War through The Cold War that leads to the war in the 60s and early 70s. Another book from that era is frequently cited as a top read: Graham Greene's "Quiet American."
As a Navy read, "From Pearl Harbor to Vietnam: The Memoirs of Admiral Arthur W. Radford,"edited by Stephen Jurika, Jr, is indispensable. Radford's memoirs were published by Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, in 1980 (with excerpts printed as early as 1949 by various publishers).  Radford's memoirs gives a first-person account and insight on how Indochina continued to be a glowing ember after WWII and through the early 70s.
Another candidate for the "50 for 50" is J. Craig Venter's biography, "A Life Decoded - My Genome: My Life," reviewed previously on Navy Reads. And for a far-out future perspective based on his Vietnam experience, read Joe Haldeman's highly recommended "The Forever War."

Saturday, May 6, 2017

'General Confusion' & Lies of Vietnam War

Review by Bill Doughty

Crawling out of a hole in Vietnam in 1967. (Photos from National Archives and/or LBJ Library)
H.R. McMaster shows how outright lies, obfuscation and "deceit and manipulation of Congress and the American people" brought about the Vietnam War. His carefully researched "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam" (HarperCollins) was published in 1997. McMaster is the current National Security Adviser.

Now, twenty years after his book appeared – and fifty years after most of the events depicted in this book –McMaster's words ring with new relevance.
"The president's fixation on short-term political goals, combined with his character and the personalities of his principal civilian and military advisers, rendered the administration incapable of dealing adequately with the complexities of the situation in Vietnam. LBJ's advisory system was structured to achieve consensus and to prevent potentially damaging leaks. Profoundly insecure and distrustful of anyone but his closest civilian advisers, the president viewed the JCS with suspicion. When the situation in Vietnam seemed to demand military action, Johnson did not turn to his military advisors to determine how to solve the problem. He turned instead to his civilian advisers to determine how to postpone a decision. The relationship between the president, the secretary of defense, and the Joint Chiefs led to the curious situation in which the nation went to war without the benefit of effective military advice from the organization having the statutory responsibility to be the nation's 'principal military advisers.'"
Taylor and McNamara (2nd and 3rd from left) aboard Air Force One headed to Honolulu, 1964; President Johnson in executive seat and robe. Yoichi Okamoto
LBJ surrounded himself with yes-men. Chief among them was a holdover from the Kennedy in-crowd, military advisor Maxwell Taylor, author of "The Uncertain Trumpet" and trumpeter of the strategies of "flexible response" and "limited war." In Neil Sheehan's comprehensive history of the Vietnam War, "A Bright and Shining Lie," Taylor's "limited war" strategy is called "Maxwell Taylor's rationalization to find employment for an unemployed U.S. Army." LBJ traveled to Honolulu with his inner circle for a conference in early June 1964. "The conference attendees affirmed the basic concept of graduated pressure and agreed to refine plans to support it." McMaster contends that a lack of consensus or clear understanding was part of the administration's plan. "The ambiguity was deliberate, and Taylor played a critical role in preserving it."

Marine walks through punji gully in January 1966.
Johnson skipped over Admiral George Anderson in order to install Taylor as chairman of the joint chiefs. Meanwhile, LBJ tried to go after those in his administration who leaked to the press, and he "obscured the cost of the war" both to Congress and the public.

When the early Rolling Thunder air campaign did not succeed, LBJ and other senior military leaders blamed the inexperienced "boys" carrying out the mission. He called himself the coach and told his inner circle a story that was eerily reflected in the 2017 Super Bowl 51, more than 50 years later. Think of LBJ as the future Coach Bill Belichick. (Belichick, by the way, was then 13 years old and would soon to go to Annapolis High School, but that's another story.)
"LBJ told the JCS: 'Now, I'm like a coach I used to know, and you're my team; you're all Johnson men.' Referring to the situation in Vietnam, the president continued with his metaphor: 'We played the first half of the game and the score is now 21-0 against us; now I want you to tell me how to win' ... 'You're graduates of the Military Academy and you should be able to give me an answer. I want you to come back here next Tuesday and tell me how we are going to kill more Viet Cong.'"
LBJ and McNamara during a Vietnam security meeting July 21, 1966.
Johnson was fixated in the power of winning – even when claims of victories were increasingly less believable.

This book features nearly three dozen pages of notes and a very extensive bibliography including books, documents and oral histories conducted with witnesses and principals. "Dereliction" is recommended by authors and historians like Paul Fussell, Stanley Karnow and Tom Clancy as well as former uniformed leaders like Col. (U.S. Army ret.) David Hackworth and Lt. Gen. (U.S. Marine Corps ret.) Victor Krulak (father of the 51st commandant of the Marines), among others.

Each chapter begins with an epigraph, none more powerful than this one by Thomas Jefferson at the beginning of Chapter 5, "From Distrust to Deceit." The Jefferson quote is from August 19, 1785:
"He who permits himself to tell a lie often finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, til at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions." – Jefferson
Whether LBJ believed in the logic of his argument or not, he argued midway into the war, that patriotism and support of the troops must be a "lynchpin for greater involvement." In May of 1965 LBJ said a vote against a ramp up and request for an additional $700 million was a "vote against 400 Americans" who had been killed up to that point.

McMaster doesn't blame the New York Times or college campuses for the failure of the United States in Vietnam. He places the blame squarely in "Washington D.C. ... indeed, even before the first American units were deployed."
"The disaster in Vietnam was not the result of impersonal forces but a uniquely human failure, the responsibility of which was shared by President Johnson and his principal military and civilian advisers. The failings were man and reinforcing: arrogance, weakness, lying in the pursuit of self-interest, and, above all, the abdication of responsibility to the American people."
A Navy Nurse helps a Marine aboard USS Repose, Oct. 1966.
Parallels are tied to another error in judgment, as defined by historians: President George Bush's foray into Iraq in 2002.

While patriotic Americans honor the sacrifice of the brave service members who went to Vietnam, many believing they were fighting for freedom, McMaster reminds us;
"The war continues to capture the public interest in part because, looking back, its cost seems exorbitant – and would seem so even if the United States had 'won.' The war took the lives of fifty-eight thousand Americans and well over one million Vietnamese. It left Vietnam in ruins and consumed billions of American dollars, nearly wrecking the American economy. Vietnam divided American society and inflicted on the United States one of the greatest Political traumas since the Civil War. indeed, the war's legacies proved to be as profound as the war was traumatic. It led Americans to question the integrity of their government as never before. Thirty (now fifty) years later, after the end of the Cold War, the shadow of the American experience in Vietnam still hands heavy over American foreign and military policy, and over American society."
Counting down the days and months in 1968.
Missing in this dissertation, because of McMaster's narrow timeframe, is an accounting of President Richard Nixon, who used his own subterfuge directly and indirectly with the Republic of Vietnam to attain office in 1968 (and then lied to the American people about domestic affairs, including related to his election) and who extended the war before the American public demanded an end to the conflict in 1973. Interestingly, McMaster mentions Nixon only once and then in the context of John F. Kennedy, who "narrowly defeated Dwight Eisenhower's vice president" in 1960.

"Dereliction of Duty" concludes with this powerful observation:
"As American involvement in Vietnam deepened, the gap between the true nature of that commitment and the president's depiction of it to the American people, the Congress, and members of his own administration widened. Lyndon Johnson, with the assistance of Robert S. McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had set the stage for America's disaster in Vietnam."
The antidote to similar disasters may be, in the words of other senior leaders,  "clarity and consistency" and "honesty and accountability" – credible leadership.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Accelerating Change: How to Survive and Thrive

Review by Bill Doughty

The Navy operates in an age of acceleration in a "post-post-Cold War" era. Scientists show we're moving headlong from the Holocene into the Anthropocene, where human population growth, globalization, climate change, and loss or biodiversity are forcing change at exponential speed, and where the United States, China and Russia continue to compete for influence and resources. Meanwhile, Islamist extremists like ISIS coalesce and threaten thanks to social networking and cell phone technology.

That's some of the scene Thomas L. Friedman sets in his latest, "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016). Friedman is author of "From Beirut to Jerusalem," "The World Is Flat," "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," and "That Used to Be Us."
Globalization affects the interconnected economies of the world. Carbon (now above 400 ppm) causes changes in the atmosphere and biosphere. And Moore's law explains how technology grows exponentially. Combined, these forces bring us to either a precipice or a new beginning – a chance for the United States and the world to "reimagine how we stabilize geopolitics," according to Friedman.
Three-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist/author Thomas Friedman speaks to a packed auditorium
 in Ingersoll Hall, Naval Postgraduate School, June 24, 2016. (Photo by Michael Ehrlich)
"It's important to remember that America is such an important player on the world stage that even small shifts in how we project power can have decisive impacts. And it's this combination of shrinking American power in one part of the world plus the reshaping of the world more broadly by the accelerations in the Market, Mother Nature, and Moore's law that defines the era we are in today, which I call the post-post-Cold War world. It is a world characterized by some very old and some very new forms of geopolitical competition all swirling together at the same time. That is, the traditional great-power competition, primarily among the United States, Russia, and China, is back again (if it really went away) as strong as ever, with the three major powers again jockeying over spheres of influence, along golden-oldie fault lines such as the NATO-Russia frontier or the South China Sea. This competition is propelled by history, geography, and the traditional imperatives of great-power geopolitics, and is reinforced today by the rise of nationalism in Russia and China. It's contours will be determined by the balance of power between these three big nation-states."
As evidence of exponential acceleration of change, Friedman presents the work of Will Steffen published in Anthropocene Review, March 2, 2015, that concludes, "We are now in a no-analogue world." The danger is in how we've (1) breached, (2) almost breached or (3) are about to breach "nine key planetary boundaries": climate change, biodiversity, deforestation, geochemical flows, ocean acidification, freshwater use, atmospheric aerosol loading, introduction of novel entities, and stratospheric ozone layer.

The latter boundary – ensuring the ozone layer is appropriately thick enough to reduce the threat of harmful UV radiation – is a success story and a sign of hope, according to Friedman. "After scientists discovered an ever-widening ozone hole caused by man-made chemicals – chlorofluorocarbons – the world got together and implemented the Montreal Protocol in 1989, banning CFCs, and, as a result, the ozone layer remains safely inside its planetary boundary of losses not greater than 5 percent from preindustrial levels."

Both Mother Nature and humankind can innovate and be highly adaptive, Friedman contends. Nature evolves through natural selection. Humans have the capability to learn, control and adapt their behavior if they have the knowledge, wisdom and will.

In growing acceleration within societies, we see examples of rapid changes. Typewriters are antiques (to be collected by Tom Hanks). Cassette players are now used as a quaint plot devices in movies like "Guardians of the Galaxy." The Confederate Flag came down in South Carolina after the shooting in Charleston in 2015. In recent years the U.S. military changed its attitude about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people and their rights to equality. The future will reward resiliency and entrepreneurial adaptability.

Those who will survive and thrive during and after the great acceleration are those who embrace innovation, science and education, based on a bedrock of truth and trust, says Friedman. The future belongs to lifelong learners willing to constantly better themselves and unwilling to accept the average or mediocre.
"We have to make our newfound power of one, the power of machines, the power of many, and the power of flows our friends – and our tools to create abundance within the planetary boundaries – not just our enemies. But organizing ourselves to use them that way will require a level of will, of stewardship, and of collective action the likes of which we have never seen humanity display as a whole. Every day there are new breakthroughs in solar energy, wind power, batteries, and energy efficiency that hold out the hope that we can have clean energy at a scale and price that billions can afford – provided we have the will to put a price on carbon so these technologies can rapidly scale and move down the cost-volume curve. As environmentalists have often noted, we have been great at rising to the occasion after big geopolitical upheavals – after Hitler invaded his neighbors, after Pearl Harbor, after 9/11. But this is the first time in human history that we have to act on a threat we have collectively made to ourselves, to act on it at scale, to act before the full consequences are felt, and to act on behalf of a generation that has not yet been born – and to do it before all the planetary boundaries have been breached."
While Friedman is optimistic, he's also realistic. Rapid acceleration and globalization is a double-edged sword.
"Globalization has always been everything and its opposite – it can be incredibly democratizing and it can concentrate incredible power in giant multinationals; it can be incredibly particularizing – the smallest voices can now be heard everywhere – and incredibly homogenizing, with big brands now able to swamp everything anywhere. It can be incredibly empowering, as small companies and individuals can start global companies overnight, with global customers, suppliers, and collaborators, and it can be incredibly disempowering – big forces can come out of nowhere and crush your business when you never even thought they were in your business. Which way it tips depends on the values and tolls that we bring to these flows."
Recent headlines and scandals about online misbehavior show the challenge to leaders in the accelerating world Friedman describes.
"It turns out that social networks, cheap cell phones, and messaging apps are really good at both enabling and impeding collective action. They enable people to get connected horizontally much more easily and efficiently but they also enable individuals at the bottom to pull down those at the top more easily and efficiently – whether they are allies or enemies. Military strategists will tell you that the network is the most empowered organizational form in this period of technological change; classical hierarchies do not optimize in the flat world, but the network does. Networks undermine command-and-control systems – no matter who is on top – while strengthening the voices of whoever is on the bottom to talk back. Social media is good for collective sharing, but not always so great for collective building; good for collective destruction, but maybe not so good for collective construction; fantastic for generating a flash mob, but not so good at generating a flash consensus on a party platform or a constitution."
A U.S. Navy EA-6B Prowler refuels in Operation Inherent Resolve mission March 20, 2017,
an extended fight against ISIS. (Photo by Senior Airman Joshua A. Hoskins)
Speaking of double-edged swords and "collective destruction"... Misplaced values in the name of what some call a deranged interpretation of Islam and the Koran is at the heart of radical extremists like Daesh/ISIS/ISIL and similar groups that form a "diffuse movement," one that can best be defeated by other Muslims standing up to the death cults, Friedman shows. Till then, the rise of the terrorists has created a "new balance of power."
"During the Cold War, if you wanted to assess the global balance of power you would likely look at the annual survey "The Military Balance," published by the London-based International institute for Strategic Studies, and self-described as the most 'trusted military data on 171 countries: size of armed forces, defense budgets, equipment.' That book would tell you the relative strengths of their armies, navies, and air forces (their hard power), and their 'soft power': the relative strengths of their economies, their societal appeal, and the degree of entrepreneurship in their culture. And if you added up all those numbers, you would have a rough measure of the balance of power between different nation-states. Not anymore. Assessing today's balance of power requires a much wider lens."
Trees grow tall in suburbs in Minnesota, anchoring Friedman's optimism.
Getting to that wider lens requires us to not act like the proverbial frog being slowly boiled and lulled into unconsciousness (put a frog in boiling water and it jumps out; put it in cool water and gradually raise the temperature, and the frog might not act till it's too late). "We are hardwired to consider nature limitless because for so many years nature seemed so limitless – and we were so relatively few and so relatively light a force upon it; how could it be that we cannot devour as much as we want." 

Friedman tells a great story about his encounter with a parking lot attendant (and blogger) at the beginning of "Thank You for Being Late." Throughout the  book he enlightens us with topics as diverse as in Syria, artificial intelligence, Madagascar, Hadoop, generative design, and Brandi Carlile, among dozens of others.

He concludes this book with a personal and heartfelt story about his "anchoring" roots, symbolized in the trees he remembers in his hometown of St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
"Those trees and I had both grown up and out from the same topsoil, and the most important personal, political, and philosophical lesson I took from the journey that is this book is that the more the world demands that we branch out, the more we each need to be anchored in a topsoil of trust that is the foundation of all healthy communities. We must be enriched by that topsoil, and we must enrich it in turn."
During a recent visit to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, geobiologist and author Hope Jaren ("Lab Girl") invited us to think about how plants – seeds, roots, trees, etc. – are depicted and reflected in books. Of course that came to mind in reading the last few pages of Friedman's latest must-read. Highly recommended.

For more on how the Navy must operate in a rapidly accelerating world, branch out and read the CNO's "Design for Maritime Superiority."